Robot 6

Dan DiDio and Jim Lee talk numbers — specifically, 52

DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee sat down with the folks at ICv2 recently for a wide-ranging interview about the state of DC. With DC’s New 52 launching Wednesday, the interview comes at a particularly auspicious time. Here are some highlights:

Comics sales: DiDio says overall sales in the direct market are flat, but periodicals are softening, because people are shifting to trades, converting to digital or falling out of the market entirely because of the lack of interest or money. Lee brings up piracy as a possible factor as well. On the other hand, despite the problems at Borders, mass-market graphic novel sales are up.

Prices: DiDio’s take on rolling back the cover price to $2.99:

While we didn’t show increased sales because of it, I believe that we didn’t have the level of erosion that would have occurred if we had decided to push our books to the higher price point.

So, it didn’t make things better, but they would have gotten worse without it. Lee chimes in that $2.99 is a better price for bringing in new readers, and he adds an interesting point:

… the history of comics has been one of price inelasticity, where fans could not be induced to buying something at any price, and yet were willing to pay a very hefty price for books that they absolutely love. It’s not necessarily the best or healthy approach for the industry. We should really have a situation where being able to hold the price points down should show benefits in sales.

I think what he’s saying is that they can’t force people to buy something they don’t want, even if they price it cheap.

The New 52: Really, this topic has been beaten to death at this point, but if you’re just back from a vacation at the North Pole, DiDio provides a nice, quick summary of why they are bothering: The characters were dated.

Event fatigue: Are readers sick of complicated multi-series crossovers? DiDio sticks his fingers in his ears and says, “I can’t hear you!” Well, not exactly:

DiDio: First things first. What retailers have identified as event fatigue is usually what we see as a weak story that is not exciting or interesting to the fans themselves.

[ICv2] We were trying not to say that … (laughter)

DiDio: No — that’s the reality of it. The reality of it is that “event fatigue” only means that they don’t like what they’re reading. It doesn’t mean that they’re tired of big stories, or tired of multi-part crossovers. They just want to make sure that it has value and weight.

And Flashpoint has done quite well, thankyouverymuch. Also, the New 52? Not an event, so there’s no problem:

Now when we get to 52, people are identifying this as an event and this is not an event, therefore I guess they can’t get fatigued.

Lee chimes in that any events will be driven by the desires of creators, not the need to fill up the market with books.

Digital sales: With the launch of the New 52, DC is doing something unprecedented in the industry: Releasing all titles in print and digital on the same day, at the same price. Lee sees this as an opportunity to not only increase digital sales but increase sales overall by bringing in new and lapsed readers:

Our initial sales data from a year and a half of digital sales shows it’s a slightly different reader, shows that we’re reaching people that aren’t necessarily near a comic book shop or don’t live near a comic book shop.

Piracy: Lee gets it:

… the fact that the bit torrent sites are updated the day the books come out, the fact that they’re so accessible and the fact that the trades are still selling very well, speaks to the fact that people are still following the hobby, but in an illegal way. If you give a lot people the opportunity to buy the content legally that we’ll some conversion of people who are illegally downloading them to legally paying for content if they can get it day and date.

While he doesn’t quite connect the dots, it suggests that the drop in periodical sales may be linked to digital piracy — people are getting their fresh content online but buying trades to keep. It isn’t that different from the webcomic model, really, except that it’s illegal. Of course, DC is gambling that people will pay print prices for digital, and so far that hasn’t worked out all that well, although those legit customers he mentions — the ones who don’t live near a comics store—may be willing to do so.

Younger readers: DiDio’s response to the question about getting kids to read comics is rather disappointing, at least to me:

Right now we’re determining kids as being teenagers at this moment and that’s where our focus is with the New 52 books. But we’re also still publishing a kids line for 11 and younger, and that hasn’t changed at all.

That makes the whole kids’ line seem like an afterthought. It’s too bad, because kids love superheroes and there are lots of opportunities to do superheroes well for kids, but no one seems to be interested. There’s no point in doing separate outreach to teenagers; they hate that. They think of themselves as adults and want to read adult comics.

There’s a lot more in the interview, and it’s well worth taking the time to read, but that’s the meat of it. And for a refreshing followup, check out Heidi MacDonald’s wide-ranging essay on the carnage at the end of DC’s current run and the promise of digital.

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Comments

13 Comments

I think the relevant quote on the price rollback is Jim Lee’s:

I think it also laid the groundwork for what we’re doing in September. We knew at that time that we had plans for September, and we knew that if we were going to go wide and broad with our campaign and messaging, we have to really present the comics in most affordable way possible. And $2.99 is a much better price point for existing, or bringing in new readers, or even lapsed readers than a $3.99 price point.

Launching day-and-date digital at $3.99 would have made that whole initiative dead on arrival. As it is, $2.99’s probably still a bit too high, but couple that with the drop to $1.99 a month later, and it’s doable.

Ummm…52 DCnU is the biggest EVENT ever. Don’t kid yourselves. And believe me, plenty of people are fatigued by it.

I kinda want this to fail — not that I don’t like DC — but I think Dan is a horrible custodian for these characters.

As a comics reader I can tell you, event fatigue is a real thing. Yes many events are not that interesting or good — looking at you Fear itself and every Flash Point tie-in. And it would seem both DC and Marvel have forgotten that readers don’t want 7494732904 tie-in books for each event. Long standing stories, such as these comic pillars at both companies, need to time to go off and tell several years worth of stories. Characters need to grow and change, so that the line stays fresh. But all these events create a stagnant pool where almost every story has to do with the event, and very little happens. So yes Events can be boring and not just because the storyline you’re putting out is a piece of crap that no one wanted.

And as for attracting new readers, Here’s a thought: Try advertising your products or related comics before their movie in the theatre and during a related TV show. Why wouldn’t you advertise the green lantern books right before the movie starts in the theatre or Captain America before his movie. Seems like a no brainer to alert non-readers to whats out there.

Thou speakest the truth, Rollo. As Thor might say.

I agree with you, too, Laura.

I wish there was a law against reboots. If the publishers don’t like their own characters, then they need to invent new ones! Not cannibalize the old ones.

I personally think DC would have been fine with launching D&D digital at $1.99 – but retailer backlash prevented it.

@Lemurion

You’re probably correct, but that $1.99 may be enough to sway a lot of people away from the LCSs anyway.

The last point, about kids and comics, is spot on. I have a 4 year old son who LOVES superheros and comics. But every time we walk into a store and he shows that awe of seeing all the cool new covers of his favorite superheros I have to deny him access to 99% of them. The ones that ARE for kids are actually too juvenile for even him, the Marvel Superhero Squad had fart and poop jokes. Tiny Titans and Batman: Brave and the Bold are really the only two options that I like.

Bogus, every single bit they answered to regarding events and selling comics to kids is completely bogus. You want kids to read comics? Stop making them completely gory or violent. They can throw punches or kick, but it doesn’t have to lead to someone’s arm is knocked off because of it. One other thing: if they think their characters are dated, maybe they should start making NEW characters and bar the executives from meddling in their creative processes. There are a lot of things I could give them advice on.

funnywheels, what we’re seeing more and more with kids reading is that I think they really want to read more mature material (granted your child is 4 so that’s a whole other kettle of fish) but I keep going back to Harry Potter as the example that should set the rule:

If the kids have been devouring that, there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t handle what’s going on in today’s comics. There’s just still a disconnect between reading it in prose and seeing it in pretty pictures in far less pages.

The New 52: Really, this topic has been beaten to death at this point, but if you’re just back from a vacation at the North Pole, DiDio provides a nice, quick summary of why they are bothering: The characters were dated.

I take offense to that last sentence. If each comic book movie is the highest-grossing the week it comes out, then no, the characters aren’t dated. In point of fact, they’re actually timeless. That your writers can’t progress those characters speaks more to your talent than it does the characters.

You can write your characters out of bad storylines and reinvent them within the confines of the existing universe; DC did it itself in the mid-80s. Hitting the reset button looks desperate to me.

Everything they said was wrong except DiDio’s first statement. He is right that they would have lost more readers if they had raised the price to $3.99. And four of the new 52 are $3.99, so those comics will have fewer readers than they could have.

Sure, $2.99 is a better price to attract new readers, but better than what? $4 for a comic? $5? How many comics can a person reasonably expect to buy at that price? Why not reduce the printing costs and sell comics for $1.50? Or better yet $1? How many readers really care that the paper is shiny?

Retailers are not identifying event fatigue as a weak story. Retailers are telling them readers are tired of events AND your stories are weak. Readers don’t want a new company-wide crossover every 3-6 months. Readers also don’t want weak stories. They especially don’t want company-wide crossovers that are also weak stories. Saying event fatigue doesn’t mean readers are tired of multi-part crossovers is either ignoring the problem or lying to yourself. Of course, that seems to be DiDio’s standard operating procedure. And if DiDio thinks readers can’t be fatigued by having 52 new comics to keep track of, he really is lying to himself.

The whole notion that you can attract new readers by continuing to target the same market is never going to work. All the 15-30 year old males that are interested in buying comics already are. Readers stop reading because they get bored, can’t afford the comics, or die. Children like superheroes and would buy comics if they could get them. At this point they can’t. Because DC doesn’t want them to. DiDio actually said, “…[W]e’re determining kids as being teenagers at this moment and that’s where our focus is…” If Michael Bay didn’t direct your favorite movie, DC doesn’t want your money.

There are four things needed to sell to children: age-appropriate material, marketing, availability, and affordability. Licensed DC properties match all four of those criteria and sell like hotcakes. DC comics don’t meet any of them. Cartoons are age-appropriate material. DC characters are available at school, the grocery store, the clothes store, Wal-Mart, everywhere kids go. Coloring books, folders, stickers, and candy sporting Superman and Batman are all affordable purchases for kids or parents buying for kids on a budget. And there is an abundance of marketing for all things DC…except comics.

If DC really cared about selling comic books, instead of just maintaining the trademarks on licensable properties, they would put a spinner rack in every Wal-Mart and grocery store in the country with 5 kid-friendly comic books, 5 all-ages comics, and 10 comics reprinting stories from the Silver Age that DC editorial is so infatuated with. They would all be printed on newsheet as cheaply as possible and sold for $1.

Instead of creative ideas about how to grow the market, we get Lee basically blaming the readers, “…I would present it as a challenge to the fans: look, if this is meaningful to you, please support it….because the history of comics has been one of price inelasticity…” In other words, DC is not willing to sell a product is customers want at a price they are willing to pay. And in their view, that is their customers fault.

Personally, I’ll be happy when Warner Bros. gets tired of putting up with crap and decide it’s time for the adults to take over. When DC has someone interested in actually selling comic books in charge, we’ll get the variety, marketing, and availability that really will grow the comic book market.

@Ty Myrick
You, my friend, made one of the most sensible comments I could ever have read. Everything you said fits with what I feel: it’s both the characters (some of them) AND the marketing that are the major problems with the comic book industry right now. If we have all these sensible statements, and CAN be backed by evidence, then why hasn’t there been a group of fans who pulled a 1775 Philadalphia convention and send all that evidence to DC itself, and maybe Warner Brothers.

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